Climbing to Montana Glaciers - My Family Travels

Something looks different about glacial runoff water. While the average lake has a banal navy blue or even brown color, one composed of glacial melt has a rich, aquamarine, slightly opaque look to it. My family and I have been fortunate enough to experience this firsthand. However, before having the privilege of getting up close and personal with one of the few remaining icy giants, I first had to endure the most rigorous hike of my life.


One week in early August my parents decided to load up and take the whole family, including the dog, out to northern Montana for a week. After two days of driving we finally arrived at the KOA campground on the east side of Glacier National Park. We spent three days completing simple hikes to beautiful sights in the park, but these all built up to the final hike up to Grinnell Glacier. What a grand finale this trek turned out to be! When the trail first begins, a naïve hiker may relax, and delude them self. We strolled through a marsh on a trim wooden boardwalk until we reached what I would call the “official” start of the trail. Perhaps I should have not let myself be misled by the ease of the beginning of the trail, however I could see that the trail would be challenging by anyone’s judgment; even from the parking lot you cannot see the destination of the trail, for it lies in the mountain tops shrouded in clouds. Great sign. Obviously I had not put two and two together early on, so I nearly retched when we arrived at the trailhead greeted by the most gruelingly steep switchbacks I have ever seen. And the adventure had just begun.

After tackling those monsters (ie. switchbacks) we still had a long climb ahead. After a “relaxing” break, a merely moderate ascension, we found a harrowing stretch were the trail ceased to be rooted firmly into the hillside and became a cliff, about six feet wide, with a vertical wall shooting straight up on the right and plummeting straight down to the left. Yet the situation was worsened by two waterfalls drenching the already slippery, crumbling shale. My natural fear of heights found no comfort having to walk across a narrow path slick with seasonal cascades of water. Two skinned knees later, those thanks to the damp, breaking rock, I managed to pass this worst section of trail. Finally, after continuing for what seemed like an eternity, we reached a small group of picnic tables where I happily prepared to stop, eat my lunch, and gratefully never move again. Regardless of these dreams my mother insisted we continue up the quarter mile, twisted, boulder-clogged path to the glacier and its runoff lake. What we found at the path’s end was extraordinary. The glacier arose immediately across the small body of water, and that water itself could be perceived as not quite blue, but more opaque aquamarine. Following my childish impulses I shoved my hand into the large pond and immediately pulled it out, it felt near freezing! Following this awesome sight we descended in high spirits.

This family trip will go down in memory as one of our most adventurous, challenging, and rewarding vacations ever. Together we suffered through a toughening trudge through switchbacks and waterfalls and cliff sides, and, speaking for myself, the whole way I thought nothing would be worth the monotony and pain of the trail. Heedlessly, we endured and in the end we basked in the teal glory of Grinnell Glacier and its lake.

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